I recently returned to the States temporarily after working overseas for a few years. “Reentry” as they call it, is a odd time full of weird emotions and confusing reactions and wondering whether things will ever feel normal again.
Because time overseas changes you.
In a way, coming “home” is like entering your own country for the first time, as a foreigner.
Now, I in no way want to imply that my reentry experience is the same as or as difficult as a true foreigner’s experience of culture shock. Instead, I’m saying:
- If even I (a returned native) had a moment in the middle of Walmart where I couldn’t find something and kept pushing my cart in circles and feeling stupid and overwhelmed by all the choices and the bigness and anonymity, how much more would a true foreigner feel that way?
- If even I (a returned native) said something in my non-Southern accent and was then told, “Well, you wouldn’t really appreciate this because you’re not from around here” how much more would a true foreigner be excluded based on their foreignness?
- If even I (a returned native) wonder who I am these days and where I fit in the grand scheme of things here in the States and all kinds of other depressing existential thoughts, how much more would a true foreigner experience intense feelings of being “out of place”?
The list could go on, but you get the point. I’m feeling a new empathy for immigrants to the US based on my partial experience of culture shock upon reentering (as well as my experience as an immigrant to Ethiopia).
As Philo of Alexandria said: “Be kind, for everyone you know [including immigrants, perhaps especially immigrants] is fighting a great battle” (parenthetical phrase mine).
What is one way you could extend a welcoming hand to someone fighting culture shock today?